Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Patient in Room 9 Says He’s God, by Dr. Louis Profeta. O-Books, 2010

Dr. Profeta is an emergency room doctor. He sees life at its most frantic. But he has managed, through the years, to see the spiritual and moral issues in medicine. The short chapters tell us about his patients, his co-workers, his friends and family. He can come across as arrogant, but he admits when he’s wrong. I got this book thinking it would be a series of patient cases, a la Oliver Sacks. It’s not- or, at least, that’s not *quite* what it is. The cases aren’t as odd as ones a neuro doctor gets, so there aren’t as many medical details. Profeta leans toward the ethical and spiritual issues in the cases, and includes a lot of personal history and spiritual ponderings. Four stars.

The Lake Boy, by Adam Roberts. NewCon Press, 2018

This is an odd bit of storytelling. It’s part ghost story, part alien abduction, and part depiction of the perils of same sex relationships in the past.

Cynthia lives with her minister brother, who keeps a wary eye on her, as she was recently caught in a same sex relationship, which is considered a mental illness as well as a moral failure. She spends her time translating old religious texts from the Latin and forming a relationship with one of the neighboring women. There is also the distraction of strange lights in the sky, which attracts a number of astronomers, one of which disappears for several days. Oh, and the ghost, of course.

When Cynthia is caught with her lover, the lover throws her under the bus and claims Cynthia assaulted her, which leads to Cynthia being sent to a mental hospital- which is when more strange things occur. Because this story is told with Cynthia as the narrator, we can only know what she knows- and she is regarded as delusional. Is her tale true, or the work of an unhinged mind? There are a lot of things happening in the story, and they don’t all really connect with each other. I have the feeling that I missed something along the way, because in the end the whole thing just left me baffled. Three stars.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance; Portrait of an Age, by William Manchester. Back Bay Books, 1993

This history book is a fast and easy read, but I noticed some problems with it. One, the author states that he did no primary research- he didn’t do any digging into old manuscripts from monasteries, or find letters from 500 years ago. He *did*, however, bring a lot of it together into an engaging and accessible book. But there are more problems.

He shows only the bad side of the Middle Ages; in fact, he disparages it in some odd ways. One of his statements is “In the Medieval mind, there was no conception of time”- really? The monasteries certainly kept good calendars, the peasants knew when to plant for their crops to ripen in time, they knew how long it took for babies to be born, and when the saint’s special days were. No, they did not have clocks other than sundials or water clocks, but they certainly knew about the passage of time. He just about calls the people who lived in the medieval era a bunch of idiots that didn’t learn a thing for a thousand years. It’s true; the world was grim and brutal in those days, but it was not without learning.

He gets more enthusiastic when the Renaissance bursts on the scene and people start making long exploratory voyages- the entire back third of the book is about Magellan. He is also enthusiastic about the blossoming of protests against the Catholic Church- he delights in telling tales about Pope Alexander VI’s sexual antics and the selling of offices (he doesn’t have one good thing to say about the Catholic Church).

While I enjoyed the book, the fact that I found untruths in it made me wonder how many other untruths he was writing that I’m not enough of a history buff to catch. I means I cannot really trust anything he writes in this book. To explain the whole Medieval period and the beginnings of the Renaissance is a huge chore; even if he did the research he should have done, it would have been really difficult to explain it all in three hundred pages. I give it two stars, because it kept me entertained.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Lipstick Voodoo, by Kristi Charish. Vintage Canada, 2018

Kincaid Strange can’t get a break. She’s a necromancer who raises the dead for a living. Like people who shoot the messenger, clients aren’t always pleased with what their dearly departed have to say when she raises them, and they take that out of Kincaid. So how to pay the rent is just her first worry… her roommate, Nathan Cade, has his own problems. He’s a ghost, but now he’s stuck in a zombie body that is rapidly breaking down. Kincaid has no idea how to help him. She’s being stalked by Gideon, the powerful ghost magician who kind of owns her after a mishap. Then there is her ex, Aaron, the Seattle cop who is on the supernatural beat. He’s come to her with the problem of a supernatural serial killer, one who is freezing their victims solid. Seattle PD has washed its hands of the supernatural bureau, so there is zero money in it for Kincaid and she finds herself in the freelancer’s usual position of ‘doing it for the exposure’.

I liked Kincaid, although with the constant action she really didn’t have much time to show many moods other than ‘exhausted’. I kind of liked Nate, but he’s immature (although trying) and the stalking of his ex meant he lost a lot of points with me. The ex-boyfriend/PD guy had no personality. Gideon has possibilities. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this new urban fantasy series. This is the second book in the series; I’ve not read the first one. Four stars.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Pocahontas and the English Boys: Caught Between Cultures in Early Virginia, by Karen Ordahl Kupperman. New York University Press, 2019

Most Americans have some vague recollection from school that Pocahontas was taken from her people to England. In fact, even as a 10 year old girl, she learned English quickly (as kids do) and served as translator and go between for her father. At least three English boys were given to the various tribes to absorb their languages and facilitate communications. For the most part, these exchange children were well treated, but there were many incidents where one side or the other told lies to the children, which they then carried to their hosts. It got so neither side trusted the children. As they became adults, their situations became even more suspect. Pocahontas of course married an Englishman and went to England, where she died, but the English boys had varied fates. In the conclusion, the author compares the children to Stockholm Syndrome sufferers, whereby they are put in a terrifying situation but then are treated with kindness by their captors.

While the book wasn’t difficult reading, the author goes into great detail about the actions of the colonists and the Native Americans, and I would sometimes become confused as to which group or person she was talking about. It’s a great book, though, for showing the kind of misleading things the English did to take advantage of the Native Americans, as well as the situations the colonists found themselves in, in an area with different plants and animals from what they were used to. Four stars.

The Red Address Book, by Sofia Lundberg. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019

Doris, 96, still lives on her own in Sweden, with the assistance of delivered meals and daily helper calls that clean and help her bathe. She visits with her only relative, her American grand-niece Jenny, via Skype. One day she decides that she’d like Jenny to know more about her past. Flipping through her address book, she finds most of the people in there crossed out with “dead” written beside them. How did she outlast them all? She begins to write her memoirs, meaning for Jenny to find them after she is gone.

But Doris has a fall, lands in a hospital, and Jenny flies to her side, bringing her baby with her. She finds Doris’s memoirs- losing her father at a young age, being sent to work as a maid at 13 by her addict mother, being taken to Paris by her employer, becoming a high fashion model, falling in love, losing her love, fleeing to America, and finding her way back to Stockholm- and is deeply touched. She’s most touched by the love of Doris’s life- what ever happened to him? It’s the biggest loose end in Doris’s adventurous life.

I liked the book; Doris’s life was very interesting although I did wonder at a couple of things, such as, why did she continue to leave her kid sister with their unstable mother, once she’d started earning good money? The end was lovely, but kind of predictable in a Hallmark Channel sort of way. The message in the story is live your life well; in the end, all you have are memories, good or bad. Four stars.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile, by Julia Fox. Ballantine Books, 2011

Juana of Castile and Katherine of Aragon were both daughters of the renowned monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, the backers of Columbus and creators of a united Spain. Most people have heard of Katherine because she was the first wife of Henry VIII of England, who he divorced and by doing so created the Anglican Church, in defiance of the Catholic Church. Juana is far less known, even though she was on paper a ruler of a far larger country; as her brothers all died before Isabella and Ferdinand did, she was the ruler of Spain. But they both found themselves mistreated and usurped from their thrones by the men they loved and trusted.

Katherine failed Henry VIII by not producing a male heir. The English people loved her, and she was a good queen- while Henry was off fighting in France, Katherine organized the Battle of Flodden Field, wherein the English forces defeated the Scots. Juana was hot tempered and given to sulking when she didn’t get her way; she frequently chose hunger strikes as a way of communicating her frustration. Sadly, this enabled first her husband, then her father, and finally her son to brand her as insane and shut her away, her imprisonment handled by abusive jailors.

We know in fair detail how Katherine lived and what happened to her because she wrote copious amounts of letters, many of which have survived. Juana was not allowed to do this, and so we know almost nothing of her life in prison. This creates a problem for the book: the author tries to give equal time to both women, but, because of lack of sources, takes to speculating on how Juana felt or what she said. If this was historical fiction, this would be just fine, but it’s not suitable for factual biography. Not only is it speculation, but it’s filler in an attempt to even the wordage. Other than that, I have no problem with the book; it gave me a look at Katherine that is different from what I’ve had before. She wasn’t the stodgy hausfrau that most biographers of Henry portray her as; she was young and beautiful when they first met, she was very well educated, and she ran her household- and the country- very well. Juana was just as well prepared to rule and was blocked from ever doing that. Was she “mad”? She possibly had some manic traits or the like, but from what little we know from people who spoke with her during her imprisonment, she spoke calmly and reasonably. A four star book.